"Missing Airmen" Procedure


Immediate Activity

When an aircraft did not return from an operational sortie, the squadron would immediately inform Bomber Command, the Air Ministry and the RAF Records Office that the aircraft and crew were missing.

Examples of the messages sent (unrelated losses)

A telegram, along with a follow up letter from the Commanding Officer, was sent to the next of kin of each crew member, advising them that he was “missing as the result of air operations”.

The crew’s kit and personal belongings were removed from their lockers and catalogued; kit was returned to stores and personal belongings sent to the RAF Central Depository at RAF Colnbrook.

Subsequent Activity

The Air Ministry Casualty Branch [(P4 (Cas)] received documents, communiques etc from various sources which enabled it to carry out its role of investigating, monitoring and reporting on the status of missing airmen.

Sources included:

  • German propaganda broadcasts
  • German Totenliste
  • Other documents from German Authorities
  • International Red Cross listings

Example POW Listing

The Casualty Branch provided the next of kin with updated information as and when it became available

In addition, the Air Ministry issued regular listings showing the latest information regarding airmen, which were published in newspapers / magazines – more details –

Presumption of Death

If there was no information about an airmen after a period of time (usually six months after he was reported missing), the Air Ministry initiated the “presumption of death” process so that a death certificate could be issued; personal belongings could then be sent to next of kin, along with any monies due.

Post War Activity

After the war, the Casualty Branch continued to work with its Missing Research and Enquiry Service (MRES) teams to try to locate the remains of missing airmen so that they could be exhumed, identified and concentrated (reinterred) in a Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery in the country that they fell (which was Government policy at the time)